by David Sisler

Introduced by Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ), Senate Resolution 282 designated October 10, 1996, a Day of National Concern About Young People and Gun Violence. As with most resolutions "whereas" led inevitably to "resolved." It remains to be seen whether or not the "resolved" will lead anywhere.

"Whereas between 1989 and 1994, juvenile arrest rates for murder in this country skyrocketed 42 percent;

"Whereas in 1993, more than 10 children were murdered each day in America ...

"Now, therefore, be it resolved ... the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the school children of the United States to observe such day with appropriate activities."

The cynic in me remembers a song by satirist Tom Lehrer about National Brotherhood Week. On the first day of the week, Mr. Lehrer said, a prominent political leader was assassinated, "Which shows you how successful the whole idea was." Senator Bradley could have whereased a few more statistics. As a society, we have become too violence-numb for one slap in the face to wake us up.

A policy paper for the Pacific Center for Violence Prevention said that the homicide rate for 15 to 24 year olds is four to 70 times the homicide rate in other countries. The Center also reported that among African American youths age 15-19, sixty percent of deaths for males and twenty-two percent of deaths for females were from firearms.

In 1993 the Harvard School of Public Health surveyed parents. Two-thirds of parents said their children are worried about safety in school because of the availability of guns. Thirty-three percent said fear of harm has made their children less interested in going to school and made it harder to pay attention in class. Twenty percent said they know a child who has asked for a gun for his or her own protection.

A day of national concern is a start. But with all that threatens our children, one day is just not enough.

With some of our courts seemingly doing everything in their power to derail attempts to safeguard our children's lives, one day seems tragically inadequate. Less than three weeks before a day proclaimed concerned about our children, an appellate court in New York said that a Bronx high school had been wrong to suspend a 15-year-old for carrying a loaded gun. If you had entered the court room that day you would have noticed a compelling sign: "All persons may be subject to a frisk." That warning, and the implied protection for the judges, obviously did not apply to students and staff at William Howard Taft High School.

A security aid testified that he spotted what looked like a gun handle through the student's partially closed jacket. He was right. The kid was packing a loaded gun. Never mind that. The little darling's constitutional rights were violated by an illegal search. His freedoms were paramount the judges said, "no matter how serious the public safety concerns." Armed with that ruling, all records of the incident were ordered purged from school documents!

A Day of National Concern must not be the end of our national concern to stop youth violence. We must realize there are some things fundamentally wrong which have allowed this climate of violence to fester, breed and multiply.

Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of New York City's Rheedlen Centers for Children and Families says, "There [has] been a collapse of morality in this country, and it's not just in poor communities. Young people who haven't grown up with a moral center, who get their values through videos and TV, think it's all about violence, sex, greed and consumption. I'm amazed at the number of children who have never heard the words ‘Thou shalt not kill.' We've got to bring a moral message ... to the issue of prevention, which we haven't yet done as a community and as a society."

The kids themselves are more perceptive than some adults. Last year Newsweek magazine printed some essays by fifth graders at PS 156 in Laurelton, Queens. Leading up to a rally to call attention to their views, students wrote essays about fighting back against violence.

Nikkia Moulterie wrote, "So many people are getting killed on TV programs and it should be stopped. Kids are watching these shows and going outside to do it. Then you wonder what's happened to our children. Sometimes I wonder about parents."

Shereen Munroe said, "I am afraid sometimes about leaving my house and I have to look through the peephole before I walk out. I want a big change where you can walk out of your house without having to worry about a thing. Let's work together!"

"I would like to just start this world over again," wrote Kadajah Chin. "I wish there would be no guns, drug dealers, crack heads or robbers. I wish we could live in peace and harmony."

Kadajah, that day is coming. God promised it in His Word. Through His Son, we can all start now, inside of our own hearts. That is the only way lasting peace and change will come.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 10/12/96

Copyright 1996 by David Sisler

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